It is reassuring to know your child is in a safe, nurturing environment when you are away at work. Besides keeping your child fed, watered and rested, a good child care centre or kindergarten is crucial for your child's development.

The following are tips for picking a child care centre that best suits your child.

Location, location, location

A pre-school that is easily accessible benefits both parents and child. Long commute can tire out your child before school starts so a pre-school close to home or your workplace will make easier pick-up and drop-off.

Determine that ideal pre-school using the following online guides:

The Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) website has the
Directory of Family and Social Services, that helps you find a child care centre or kindergarten close to you. You can download the mobile app version of this tool free from the App Store and Google Play.

The search for child care centre and kindergarten functions are also available through the
Early Childhood Development Agency (ECDA) website which has important information for first-time parents and information about the child care centre fees, licensing tenure, and vacancies.

Parents can indicate your interest in specific child care centres through ECDA's
Registration Management System (RMS), which is a self-help web form to facilitate registering of interest in the child care centre of choice.

Get the facts

Now that you have begun shortlisting pre-schools, take a closer look at your selection. Know the education philosophies and curriculum approaches, operating hours and fee structures of those on your list.

Bear these questions in mind as you scrutinize your choice of pre-schools.

Who is caring for my child?

Pre-school staff background and experience is important reading when whittling the shortlist down to the one choice. Are these pre-schools staffed with trained and certified workers? Do they have experience for meticulous care and quality child nurturing? Do they have special needs training if such support is required?

What is my child learning?

Different centres take different approaches to early childhood learning. Learn about the various education philosophies and curriculum approaches. Figure what suits your child best.

Some centres embrace play-based learning, while others favour approaches like "multiple intelligences" and "whole-brain learning".

Curriculum approaches include the "Reggio Emilia" approach or project-based approach, which emphasises on interpersonal relationships. There is also the “High Scope” method, where children are encouraged to learn by interacting with their environment.

Also learn about the programmes and activities each centre offers, and how these learning experiences are supported by follow-up activities like field trips, hands-on tasks. And whether the curriculum integrates IT, research, science and technology, the arts, multimedia, to list a few.

Note each child care centre's licence tenure*, and whether they have certain quality certifications. The Singapore Preschool Accreditation Framework (SPARK) is one of the quality indicators to consider. (*Parents note the licence tenure is only applicable to child care centres).

What will my child be fed for meals?

Whether your child is in a full-day child care arrangement, or in kindergarten for part of the day, nutritious meals or snacks are a must. Studies show children develop food preferences in the pre-school years and these tend to go on into adulthood.

Full-day centres should offer breakfast, lunch and afternoon tea, and these should be nutritionally-balanced and low in fats and sugar. If your child has certain dietary restrictions, it is important to discuss these with the centre to ensure that his/her needs are met.

If you are curious to know which centres are tops in dietary excellence, the Health Promotion Board accredits centres that provide nutritional meals in accordance with HPB guidelines.

How closely do centres and parents work together?

Research shows children with parents who are keenly involved in their school lives are less likely to have behavioural problems, and more likely to do well academically. With this in mind, choose a centre that offers you opportunities to be involved in your child's learning journey in the pre-school years.

Ask the pre-schools on your list if they have parent support networks and how group members are to contribute time and resources. Also ask them how they communicate with parents for matters of the child.

What happens in an emergency?

We do not wish bad things to happen but when they do, it is reassuring to know your child is in good hands. Find out about each centre's emergency arrangements, and how each centre typically responds in situations like sudden illnesses or other emergencies.

Plan a visit

Once you have the necessary information about these pre-schools, narrow your list down and visit with your child to check them out. Arrange to speak to the centre supervisors or principals, and observe how your child responds to his/her potential educators in each conversation.

Is your child happy and relaxed, or cagey and tense? Pick the pre-school your child shows to be most at home with.

Also observe the other children in the centres.

Some points on this observation to consider include:

Do the children look happy and engaged?
If they are, it is an indication of the centre's activities being age-appropriate and engaging for individuals across a spectrum of abilities and interests.

Do the children turn to their educators for comfort and help?
It is important they do. After all, early childhood educators are an extension of parents - and seeking out comfort from them is an indicator of trust and affection.

Do the children have access to a variety of materials and educational toys?
Besides promoting early literacy, children best learn when they play. Access to a wide variety of educational material and toys will encourage exploratory learning for a richer experience.

Are the children at ease in their environment? Is the centre welcoming, bright and cheery?
There should be plenty of space for little ones to explore their environment - safely, of course - so be sure to check for baby- and child-proofing. The objective in the end is to find a pre-school that cares well for your child.

Hear from an ECDA Officer

Ms. Ching Pey Suan, a Senior Early Childhood Officer with ECDA, says there is a positive association between a good centre and child outcomes.

"Children will develop secure attachments and confidence. They will also benefit from programmes that are holistic, and provide optimal support and experiences for children's growth, development and learning in a safe and healthy environment."

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Contributed by:
Early Childhood Development Agency